Thursday, 12 November 2015

Antiquities: Value and (the wrong kind of) Doubt

Donna Yates, in an article posted online, explains how value is placed on authenticity in the antiquities market (‘Value and doubt’: The persuasive power of “authenticity” in the antiquities market’. PARSE 2 (2015): 71–84). This paper is available, open access, on the PARSE website: here.This paper is available, open access, on the PARSE website: here.
In the antiquities market value is intimately tied to the concept of authenticity. While beauty, form, function, and rarity are important factors in determining the price an artefact will fetch on the market, none of these matter to most buyers unless the object is “real”. If an antiquity is not ancient, it loses its meaning to buyers: it is valueless. Research into the global antiquities market has revealed extensive market deception regarding the legality of much of the artefacts that are bought and sold. Criminal activity of various kinds exists at all stages and at all levels of the trade. Although it would seem that engaging in a potentially illegal market with very real punitive consequences should be of primary concern to buyers and dealers, in antiquities sales the specific legality of an object is rarely presented directly or openly discussed. In contrast, scientific testing and certificates of authenticity are featured prominently on dealer websites and storefronts. Provenance research may have the side benefit of potentially proving that an antiquity is not illegal, but its primary purpose is to establish an impeccable chain of connoisseurship and thus authenticity.
Read more here.  The points made concern issues that are fundamental to any understanding of the antiquities market (and apply to the art and antiques markets in general).  In the latter context I am not sure that it is true that a good fake is actually valueless, even if sold as such, but that is mere quibbling.

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